This month we’re going to look at some verbal collocations with mouth and eye(s), but we’ll be focusing only on those that pose a slight translation problem.

The first one is Watch your mouth! This is usually said to someone who uses bad language, but is obviously not translated as ‘Observe sua boca!’ or ‘Olha sua boca!’. A possible translation in the first two examples would be something like ‘Olha o palavrão!’, or ‘Olha o linguajar, or even ‘Olha essa boca suja!’:

  • “Hey, watch it, you fucking ragheads.” # “You watch your mouth,” Kashif protested.
  • “Fuck you, Luckster, this ain’t Vietnam!” # “Watch your mouth, Bub. There’re ladies present.”

In the next example, as it is not direct speech, a better translation might be ‘cuidar da linguagem’:

  • He told her that her son needed to watch his mouth because he did not realize who he was talking to.

Wipe one’s mouth implies cleaning one’s mouth by rubbing it with some kind of cloth or paper. Depending on the context, wipe could be translated as ‘esfregar’, which is not the case here. In Portuguese, we simply say ‘limpar a boca’:

  • With the back of his other hand, he wiped his mouth as the doorbell rang.
  • When she had regained herself, she wiped her mouth on her napkin, folded it neatly, laid it beside the plate.
  • Russ wiped his mouth of crumbs.1


Keep one’s mouth shut really poses no specific problem other than keep is usually not translated as ‘manter’ in this collocation, but as ‘ficar’, that is ‘ficar de boca fechada’, or ‘ficar quieto/a’. Depending on the situation it could even be translated as ‘calar a boca’.

  • “… and it would be best for me just to keep my mouth shut.”
  • … and told her it was better for her to keep her mouth shut and spend the money, or save it for a rainy day.
  • “Just keep your mouth shut,” Owen said, “and look really grateful, no matter what they say.”
  • He loves her so he kept his mouth shut.
  • So if I kept my mouth shut and wore local clothes, I could pass off as a local.

In the next examples, however, ‘calar a boca’ is a better translation:

  • There are a lot of troops that are being told to shut their mouth now, don’t talk about this thing.
  • Shut your mouth,” Blake said. “You’re talking craziness.”
  • Shut your mouth!” Justy snarled at his young wife.

Cover one’s mouth can be translated literally as ‘cobrir a boca’:

  • He coughed slightly, one hand covering her mouth.
  • He covered her mouth and feigned shame.2



but also as ‘tapar a boca’, depending on the context:

  • Tears stung her eyes as she covered her mouth to stop herself from crying aloud.
  • But Masoud pulled her back down and, just as she was about to scream, covered her mouth again, harder this time.
  • Quietly, she let them fall, covering her mouth to stifle the cries.


Another interesting collocation is leave one’s mouth, which cannot be translated as ‘deixar a boca’. Rather, the adequate rendering in Portuguese is ‘sair da boca’, especially because most of the examples with this collocation occur with words:

  • Daniel realized it was an idiotic comment the moment the words left his mouth.
  • But even as the words left my mouth, I trembled, knowing I had no real recourse.
  • The words left his mouth as if on their own volition.
  • As the words left his mouth, Brian became aware of an incongruity between his speech and theirs.


The last one we’re looking at with mouth is actually an expression: to put words in one’s mouth. Although put can be translated into Portuguese as ‘por’ or ‘colocar’, ‘colocar’ is the preferred rendering in our language: ‘colocar palavras na boca de alguém’:

  • ”You’re putting words in my mouth.”
  • “No. You are not putting words in my mouth. That’s accurate.”
  • “I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but you said that a couple of minutes ago.”
  • “So I don’t mean to put words in your mouth. So correct me if I’m being presumptuous here.”3

OK, now that the mouth has been covered (I couldn’t resist the pun!), let’s move to verbal collocations with eye(s).


Keep an eye on something/somebody is an easy one. It means ‘ficar de olho em alguma coisa/alguém’. Notice that the preposition that follows is on:

  • “Keepan eye on the boys. I don’t want them running off to play during the storm.”
  • “It’s okay, Monica, I asked Mr. Craddock to keep an eye on Mamma while I stepped out.”
  • “I was sort of under the impression that you’d be keeping an eye on
  • “You’d better keep an eye on your suitcase, anyway,” Peapack warned her.
  • “And now, make sure you keep your eyes on the road.”4


A very similar collocation is keep one’s eyes out for somebody/something in which the particle out implies something is likely to happen or to appear soon. Notice also that it is followed by the preposition for. It could also be translated as ‘ficar de olho em’ or ‘ficar de sobreaviso’. The example with Sheriff Meeks could be translated as ‘disse-lhe para ficarem de olho se aparecer um…’, in which ‘se aparecer’ makes explicit the idea that something is yet to appear.


  • “If you need help, well, keep an eye out for
  • “In the meantime, keep an eye out for job postings.”
  • Sheriff Meeks, told them to keep an eye out for a’ 56 Chevy pickup with a regular cab.
  • Keep an eye out this spring for de Coeur’s new jewelry collaboration with artist Andy.5


Here’s another instance in which keep is translated as ‘ficar’: keep one’s eyes open = ‘ficar de olhos abertos’; keep one’s eyes closed/shut = ‘ficar de olhos fechados’:

  • What strength I have evaporates to the point that I can barely keep my eyes open.
  • Just keep your eyes closed.
  • I figured the best thing I could do was to keep my eyes open and my mouth shut, ever listening,
  • This is why he’d told her to keep her eyes closed for the past five minutes.
  • And when he lay down on his narrow cot, he managed to keep his eyes open even after automatic lights-out.


Catch one’s eye(s) cannot be translated literally. What it really means is to catch someone’s attention, that is, ‘chamar a atenção’:


  • “Anything unusual that caught your eye when you went through the house?”
  • Our friend Dan Balz wrote a column this weekend which caught my eye.
  • An irregular shape in the near water caught his eye.
  • But it was his hands that caught my eye.6


However, it can also refer specifically to calling the attention of someone by looking at that person. In that case the translation into Portuguese would have to make this explicit by saying something like ‘olhar para’:

  • Ben caught her eye and put his finger to his lips as he leaned over his speakerphone.
  • Greg caught my eye and gave me an expectant look.
  • As he sat down, Richard caught her eye and for a moment a look of shock appeared on her face.
  • Hardy headed for the bar, and Tim caught my eye and motioned me over to his table.


In the following examples, the translation has to take into consideration the particle off: keep one’s eyes off somebody/something = ‘tirar os olhos de alguém/alguma coisa’:

  • Because you can’t seem to keep your eyes off your watch.
  • The baker’s assistant tried very hard to keep his eyes off the weapon at my side.
  • Jack couldn’t keep his eyes off her, in no small part because she seemed a profusion of contradictions.
  • Henrietta nodded in agreement, still unable to keep her eyes off his face, as if she no longer recognized him.

A very similar collocation is take one’s eyes off something/somebody. Maybe you remember the song  by Bob Crewe / Bob Gaudio, sung by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, and also by Gloria Gaynor:

You’re just too good to be true
Can’t take my eyes off you
You’d be like heaven to touch
I wanna hold you so much

and a couple more examples:

  • Maria could not take her eyes off the picture of the girl on my dress.
  • Which was why he couldn’t take his eyes off her when she announced she would be gone for five days.

Notice that both keep one´s eyes off something/somebody and take one´s eyes off something/somebody are usually used in a negative context.

We’ll finish with roll one’s eyes, which correspond to ‘revirar os olhos’ in Portuguese:

  • He rolled his eyes in exasperation.
  • Cyn rolled his eyes. Could this farce get any more ridiculous?
  • I rolled my eyes and kept my mouth shut.
  • Nathalie rolled her eyes and even Sonia seemed annoyed.
  • The boy rolled his eyes and sighed derisively.7


That’s it for now, but keep an eye out for our next posts!

Hope you all have a great 2016!

Stella E. O. Tagnin
Stella E. O. Tagnin professora associada do Departamento de Letras Modernas, FFLCH, da USP. Embora aposentada, continua orientando em nível de pós-graduação nas áreas de Tradução, Terminologia, Ensino e Aprendizagem, sempre com base na Lingüística de Corpus. É coordenadora do Projeto CoMET.e-mail: